The Dawning of Faith

The Dawning of Faith

Easter Sunday. Fr Richard Finn preaches for the Mass celebrated on Easter Sunday morning.

How do we expect John to narrate the resurrection this Easter morning? Do we look for trumpets, for a swelling note of glory from the evangelist whose Gospel opens with the awesome proclamation of the word made flesh?

What we find is Mary of Magdala shocked to discover in the semi-darkness that the tomb has been disturbed. She flees – fearing that ‘they’, the men of violence, have taken the body – and shares her fear with the disciples.

So, ironically, John opens his account of the resurrection with a picture of dismay. The disciples expect the worse; and the resurrection at first proves so far from their minds that they repeatedly fail to grasp the meaning of what they see. Behind this ancient irony lurks our terrible conviction that evil always wins in the end.

And then in the growing light of dawn the disciples see the cloths neatly folded in the tomb: this was not the work of soldiers carrying away the body. Faith dawns: the other disciple, the disciple Jesus loved? sees and believes. The Lord is risen – and the disciples find themselves running to catch up. Not for the first time God has surprised them.

Christ has risenfrom the dead and the Evangelist presents us not with the resurrectionitself but with this picture of the Church, the people of God, to beliberated from fear and the despair which underlies that fear. The Church is revealed as the place of dawning hope through faith. Easter is the feast on which each of us is called to rediscover these springs of our redeemed humanity.

But look at how slowly, look at the piecemeal fashion, in which this change of heart is effected, communicated by one to another, and so built up. We must go beyond the confines of the lectionary here.

The disciple Jesus loved has understood, but Mary still weeps bitterly. She still thinks that the body has been stolen, will say as much to the man she takes for the gardener. Yet that man is the Risen Jesus – she too is then overtaken by joy, caught up in the good news. Now she must again act as a messenger to the other disciples.

But even when these disciples have been told and when Jesus has appeared in their midst this gradual recovery of hope through faith is incomplete. John goes on to tell the story of doubting Thomas.

On the one hand, it seems that each of us is, like the Magdalene, ineluctably a messenger for others. There is no position of neutrality, no point to which we can withdraw without comment on the events of this Easter morning. The question is whether our message is one of fearful distrust or of joyful hope born in witness to the resurrection.

At the end of Lent we have come to celebrate the Risen Lord, but find that this is only the beginning of a further journey. We discover that we are each missionaries.

This is not a task to be left to the specialists, for the clergy, the religious, though it is theirs in a particular way determined by vows or ordination. We have each a part to play in the dawning of faith for those with whom we live and converse, by what we say, the faith we profess, but also by how we attend to each other, treat each other.

On the other hand, it seems that the life of faith is necessarily collaborative. The Good News of the resurrection is not something discovered and proclaimed by only one of the disciples, by Peter, by the beloved disciple, by Mary. The experiences of each together give rise to the common faith of the Church.

In the dawn light of the resurrection much begins to fall into place. The disciples start to make sense of all that they have been told, and lived through, in three years of discipleship. John says that as yet they did not know the scripture? did not grasp its true significance. Each must slowly learn how to make the resurrection the point from which they see their lives, their struggles and failings.

What seemed futile will appear triumphant. The foolish abandonment of ambition, the folly of preaching, compassion in this cruel world, stands revealed God’s wisdom. The agony of the cross is shown up as God’s glory.

To celebrate Easter is to look at our life from the perspective of the empty tomb, a perspective which re-orders that life, what St Paul means in his letter to the Colossians by looking for the things that are in heaven. He’s not telling us to ignore what is happening around us; rather, by concentrating on the risen Christ we find our true humanity. By looking in love upon the one who is truly good and radiant with every grace and virtue we come by this grace to be re-fashioned in his likeness.

It is then we can face the demons of inter-religious hatred, of secularism in the service of a doomed hedonism that instead fixes its eyes squarely and greedily on earthly things, the immediate returns of western prosperity. We can then eat and drink together, celebrate the Eucharist, in the strange realization that God through love has beaten down these deadly powers and calls us to take our place at his final victory.

Readings: Acts 10:34,37-43 | Col 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9

fr Richard Finn OP is Director of the Las Casas Insitute of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.